Editorial: Signs of action needed in CBD

When the ambitious blueprint for the rebuilding of the central business district of Christchurch was unveiled a year ago this week, it brought with it a sense of optimism and uplift.

At that time it was nearly two years since the first big earthquake had buffeted the city and nearly a year and a half since the second one had shattered it.

The blueprint's creators had been given an extraordinarily short 100-day deadline to draw up a plan for the design of what is virtually a new central city and had delivered on time. The blueprint's contents, too, with its outline for a framed central city, a new convention centre, various precincts and large new public facilities generated considerable excitement and praise.

One year on from the unveiling the sense that not much has happened since then and the sense that the energy generated at that time is leaking away without much to show for it is inescapable.

Apart from a start on the riverside project, few of the big anchor projects are substantially under way yet.

One of them, the cultural precinct, has been slowed by the desire, probably forlorn, of the Christchurch City Council to somehow save the wrecked Christchurch Town Hall.

Alongside the anchor projects, the retail precinct in the central city, to which many people are looking forward, to get more shopping back into the business district, seems to be bogged down in wrangles among private landowners, with the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) reluctant to force the issue.

That impression of inaction, however, may be a little misleading. For one thing, Cera's chief executive, Roger Sutton, says that much of what is happening is going on behind the scenes. While it may be a little too much behind the scenes for many people's taste, and maybe Cera could be more proactive in keeping the city informed of what is happening, that is no doubt true.

It was always expected that after the grand unveiling of the blueprint, there would be considerable hard slog to work out the details of ownership, planning and project management and much of that stuff would necessarily be in private. There are also hints that progress will become more visible soon.

Warwick Isaacs, head of the Christchurch Central Development Unit within Cera, wrote to owners and developers involved in the retail precinct recently seeking more information about where they were on their negotiations. This may be a sign that if matters cannot be worked out between the private parties, as they ideally should be, then Cera may be preparing to use the powers it has available to sort them out.

In addition to that, there is talk that the Government may be set to make an announcement on the main anchor project it is wholly responsible for, the convention centre.

All of this, if and when it comes to pass, is likely to get a sense of movement back into the city. After all, Cera's mandate is due to expire in 2016. When it does, it must be hoped its work on the reconstruction will be substantially over.

The Press